YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF… AT A MOOGFEST

In which we go once again beyond the valley of the
late Dr. Robert Moog…

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN AND FRED
MILLS

 

For the second time in as many years a
celebration of all things Robert Moog descended upon Asheville, NC, with scores
of musical – and in some instances, visual – artists paying tribute, both
directly and indirectly, to the late synthesizer pioneer. That would be
Moogfest, and also for the second time we sent two of our staffers out onto the
streets and into the clubs of Asheville to take in the sights and sounds put
forth by the likes of the Flaming Lips, Moby, Flying Lotus, Dan Deacon, Brian
Eno, Oneohtrix Point Never, St. Vincent, Neon Indian, M83 and tons more.

        The
event has its origins
in discussions between Dr. Moog’s daughter Michelle
Moog-Koussa, executive director of The Bob Moog Foundation (MoogFoundation.org), and
promoter Ashley Capps, of Knoxville’s A.C. Entertainment, which you can read
about as part of BLURT’s 2010 Moogfest coverage. You can also check out our
postmortem of last year’s festival, or view images from 2010. In the meantime,
check out some of what went down a couple of weekends ago at Moogfest, and we
hope to see you in 2012.

         Also check
out this photo gallery from Moogfest 2011. Pictured above: spacemen
stiltwalkers tower over the crowd during a show at the Asheville Civic Center
arena. (Photo courtesy Moogfest.) – The Editors

 

***

 

STEVEN ROSEN:

 

Moogfest 2011 was about
music, yes, as it’s supposed to be. But some of the most exciting, scintillating
moments at this year’s event – held over the three-day Halloween weekend, Oct.
28-30 – involved the spoken word.

 

There was, for instance, a
newly archived, tape-recorded 1970 conversation between the late Robert Moog – the electronic-music inventor/manufacturer
in whose honor the fest is held – and the visionary jazz keyboardist Sun Ra,
who was interested in trying out the then-new MiniMoog synthesizer.

 

The Bob Moog Foundation,
which wants to create a museum and other programming in Asheville (where Moog
lived and ran a company that built instruments), uses the fest to teach about
Moog’s ideas and activities. The boutique festival, loosely programmed to  highlight progressive electronic music with a
sense of history, is produced by Knoxville’s A.C. Entertainment.  (It also stages the much bigger, outdoor
Bonnaroo.) In its second year in Asheville, Moogfest is primarily an indoor
event, although it added one outdoor stage this year.

 

Played at a symposium called “Sun Ra and Beyond: Exploring Rare
Recordings from Bob’s Archives,”
the tape recording offered a peek inside Sun Ra’s visionary cosmic thinking:
“You can’t just have music for earth people. Earth people have to start
thinking of reaching other planets,” he told Moog.

 

***

 

Amazingly, some forty years
on, Brian Eno made a related
observation in his brilliant “Illustrated Talk” lecture – a Moogfest highlight
– on Saturday afternoon at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Eno, who also had an
art installation
, 77 Million Paintings, showing
elsewhere in connection with the fest, told the audience how he has
increasingly become interested in the “state of surrender” as a beneficial
human condition, a pathway to enlightenment in an age when so much of our
upbringing and socialization urges us to always control everything. And here,
although he didn’t know it, Eno made a point similar to what Sun Ra told Bob
Moog: We’re not the center of a universe containing 100 trillion stars.
Surrendering to that fact is a way of acknowledging a truth about ourselves – giving
up control is a way to give up delusions.

 

Eno then listed ways people
have of surrendering to something greater than themselves – religion, art,
drugs and sex. “If any of you know any cultures that allow all of them, I’d
like to go with you,” he said.

 

As that comment reveals, Eno
is as sardonically witty as he is intellectually provocative. And for an
artist/musician/record producer known for being avant-garde and hi-tech, he can
be surprisingly old guard. He eschewed a multimedia sound-and-light presentation
in favor of displaying via an overhead projector at a lectern some charts and
lists he had prepared. And he had trouble keeping all the sheets at his beck
and call. (A control issue?) At one point, while shuffling papers around, he
wondered aloud, “What am I doing here?” and quietly sang “letting the days go
by…” from the famous Talking Heads song he produced and co-wrote, “Once in a Lifetime.” It was just a line, but
considering how shy Eno is about performing his music in public, it immediately
produced this imaginary headline from at least one writer present: “Eno Sings at Moogfest!”

 

***

 

The music at Moogfest ran the
gamut from sublime to ridiculous – with Flaming
Lips
managing to encompass both ends, sometimes simultaneously. (Would they
be the Flaming Lips if they didn’t?) Saddled with a Saturday night outdoor show
when the temperature plummeted to the thirties, the Lips tried to go through
with the theatrical visual spectacle that is their stage act. But it’s hard to
appreciate the fantastical wonderment of it all when you’re shivering.

 

On a screen that looked like
a stretched-out giant tambourine, in front of an abstracted image of a woman
with legs spread, a passageway opened where her birth canal should be and out
came white-suited bandleader Wayne Coyne inside a huge plastic bubble. He
proceeded to roll out into the crowd, which held him aloft, and then back to
the stage to break free and start the show. He wore what looked like a heavy
fur scarf that blended in well with his long, curly hair.

 

Coyne so often called those
in the crowd “motherfucker” in an attempt to get them more involved – as in,
“Come on, motherfuckers” – that it’s surprising nobody took it personally and
climbed onstage to slug him. He made himself wearisome.

 

On the other hand, the music
rose above it all. Moogfest gave the band – especially keyboardist/guitarist
Stephen Drozd – a chance to show it’s as much into electronics (and dense sound
collage) as guitar. In tribute to the event, the Lips played a spirited, elegiac
version of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s
“Lucky Man”
– the first rock hit with a lengthy Moog-synthesizer solo –
after Coyne more or less encouraged the crowd to smoke pot to get in the mood.
And not until after Drozd played the lengthy, spacey solo was it revealed he
did it with an iPad. For the lucky men and women in the crowd, that will have
to hold until, perhaps, EL&P headline next year’s Moogfest.

 

It was a beautiful music
moment, but not the set’s best. That came with the encore (the show appeared to
be shortened due to weather), when the band launched into the melancholy-tinged
cosmic-consciousness of the lushly melodic “Do You Realize.” Accompanied by a
veritable storm of colored confetti, the song’s orchestral-like sweep lifted
the spirits and warmed the soul. The camera attached to Coyne’s microphone
transmitted a huge image of his aging but smiling face as he warbled – in his
fragile, high-pitched croon – the lyrics about the need to show kindness to
others amid the looming inevitability of death. At the end, he hauntingly
intoned several times “Do you
realize/that you have the most beautiful face?”
Solipsistic? Perhaps, but
also so sweet and so well-meaning – and so majestic – that you forgave Coyne
for his excesses and potty mouth.

 

The Lips played on Saturday,
an extraordinary day for shows by elders of progressive electronic music. Hans-Joachim Roedelius, the German
experimenter (and Eno friend) who moved from late-1960s Krautrock to Minimalism
and ambient/electronic, played a short, meditative set in a darkened concert
hall. He moved between Steinway piano and his electronics, working into his
performance a sound collage that featured snippets of Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” and Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” Those selections were in honor of his 77th birthday, he told the
audience (“my birthday present to you”). People responded by singing “Happy
Birthday” to him as he beamed and waved.

 

Afterward, keyboardist Terry Riley – a pioneer of
repetition-based Minimalism in the 1960s – played grand piano and synthesizer,
with his guitarist son Gyan, before way too few people at the auditorium.
Wearing a cowboy hat and with his trademark white beard, Riley offered a
diverse show. He sang a few eclectically enigmatic blues-jazz numbers showing a
bit of inner Dr. John and a bit of Eastern music-based modality. And belying
his Minimalist credentials, he also at times played with a sweeping lyricism
that was more like McCoy Tyner than John Cage. As a finale, using synthesizer
while his son accompanied, he offered a long, generous version of his classic “A Rainbow in Curved Air.” With its rhythmically catchy, expressively sweeping whirls and sweeps, one
could see how it inspired the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Oh, Riley, indeed.

 

Late that night, Suicide took stage at the Orange Peel club
for a fiery, no-nonsense and angry
play-through of their first album, 1977’s Suicide
. The muscular Martin Rev, standing by
his synth and looking revved up, commanded his droning, buzzingly ominous
electronic music with proud authority, stalking around stage between songs like
he’d just dunked a game-winning three-pointer. Vocalist Alan Vega, for his
part, stomped and swayed like he’d been bitten by something painful and was
about to fall over. And when someone in the crowd gave him a requested
cigarette (a violation of the no-smoking policy), he puffed so voraciously and
defiantly it was scary – like a dying man’s last wish. But he howled, exclaimed
and chanted the lyrics with the kind of punk authority that’s now folkloric.
After “Rocket USA,” with its cautionary refrain, “It’s 1977/Whole country’s doing a fix/It’s doomsday, doomsday,” he
shouted in complaint, “And look at the country now.” His meaning, one presumes,
is that it’s only gotten worse with time. But Suicide’s music only has gotten
better.

 

There was much else at
Moogfest worthy of mention, and since shows overlapped it was impossible to see
everyone. Other highlights for this writer included a late-night set by Battles, a rigorously intellectual yet
undeniably physical, primarily instrumental band.

Moby, one of
the first to produce a hit album heavily influenced by found sounds,
recorded-music samples, and electronica (1999’s Play), showed in his Friday night show at the big Asheville Civic Center
Arena how well his music works in a more traditional live-band performance.
Playing guitar along with keyboards, and sometimes singing pleasantly, Moby
made his band click like a classic alt-rock group. And Inyang Bassey, the
dynamic gospel- and jazz-influenced female singer, added emotional strength and
power to songs in a satisfying set that included “Honey,” “Why Does My Heart
Feel So Bad?”  and “We Are All Made
of  Stars.”

 

Newcomer Anika, who sings in a deadpan but mysterious voice, found success
with her late, late Friday night Orange Peel set. She drew comparisons to Nico, Julee Cruise and Judy Nylon for the
way she radically, somberly reconstructed 1960s pop/folk songs like the
Crystals’ “He Hit Me,” Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World,” Ray Davies’ “I Go
to Sleep” (first recorded by Peggy Lee) and Dylan’s “Masters of War.”  While her smoky voice was part of the charm,
the supporting band’s arrangements were riveting in their hypnotically,
dangerously seductive way. They rocked with wariness. Billy Fuller and Matt Williams of Beak> provided bass and
guitar, while Rasha Shaheen’s keyboard work and harmony singing were
outstanding. (There was also a drummer.) Anika’s debut album – reviewed here at
BLURT
– was produced by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, also a Beak> member, and
you can see the aesthetic at work – what if the default sound of 1960s pop was
trip-hop-tinged, rhythmically textured, dark melancholia? Or, what if Velvet
Underground was a Top 40 band?

 

A couple acts were
disappointments. Tangerine Dream was
closer to Mannheim Steamroller than anything progressive with its New Agey
mixture of pompous, prog-rock guitar over a monotonously loud base of
keyboards, percussion and other instruments. Ghostland Observatory’s Aaron Behrens’ weird singing style – a yelp-triggered
falsetto – was an annoying contrivance. And the fancy lighting effects didn’t
save deejay Flying Lotus’s set from
being static to watch.   

 

Another disappointment was
that the chilly weather put a damper on the spectators’ enjoyment of the elaborate Halloween costumes that
Asheville’s large youthful/bohemian community likes to wear around town. That
was a highlight last year, when the temperature and zero precipitation made for
what was a near-perfect weekend of navigating around the downtown area. The
costume-wearers were out there, some showing wonderful imagination, but the
coldness reduced the desire to relax and watch them. The weather may also have
reduced festival attendance, especially on Sunday night when some acts at the
arena and auditorium were playing to noticeably sparse crowds.

 

Finally, for those looking
for a festival breakout artist – watch out for Dorit Chrysler. She
threatens to do for the theremin what Joanna Newsom has done for the harp.
The Austrian-born, New York-based Chrysler, handsomely dressed and with long
blonde hair,  didn’t play a set at
Moogfest. She had come for a Foundation-sponsored Sunday-afternoon seminar on
“Journey to the Center of the Theremin.” She didn’t even have her theremin with
her; the airlines had misplaced it.

 

But when she used a borrowed
one to show the crowd her technique, the response was electric. Rather than
merely use her hands to coax spooky, woozy, high-pitched melody out of the
electronic instrument, as theremins usually have been used, she animatedly
chopped, massaged, waved, wiggled and parted the air all around the instrument
to make all sorts of unusual sounds at different pitches. The result is the
theremin equivalent to Tuvan throat-singing – weird yet enchanting. She also
sang a hushed, darkly romantic art song (she’s been compared to Marianne
Faithfull).

 

One person who liked the
mini-performance was Alan Paloma,
also on the seminar panel. That night, he brought her onstage to do a theremin
solo during his fine, heavily electronic yet very poppy Neon Indian set, and she got keen extended applause from a
surprised, delighted audience. Can stardom be far behind?

 

Her work came to be a
metaphor for Moogfest, itself. Both are rooted in and aware of the history of
electronic music, but alive to change, modernism and experimentalism. That
makes for a great festival.

 

***

 

FRED MILLS:

 

Well put, Dr. Rosen; I couldn’t have said it better. Indeed, it was a hugely successful
Moogfest once again, and on multiple levels – this, despite the aforementioned
weather issues, which did seem to conspire to limit some of the street revelry
that marked last year’s version (which enjoyed absolutely perfect weather), and
led some observers this year to question the wisdom of adding an outdoor stage
in the mountains at the end of October. By and large, though, the event went
off without a hitch, and that includes the fact that the Halloween spirit could
be dampened and chilled, but not dismantled. Beetlejuice apparently was this
year’s most popular costume – I counted at least 10 variations wandering the
streets – which was a good thing because it helped take away from all the silly
wolf-head hats and multicolored faux-hawks also being rocked. One fun moment:
turning down a street en route to a club, I got the bejeezus scared out of me
when a hairy ghoul jumped out of the bushes and screamed at me. I started to
give him a buck because I figured he was just a homeless guy, but then he
shooed me along, laughing and stage-whispering, “I gotta get ready to jump out
at these next folks coming…” Now THAT is Halloween.

 

Oh yeah – the robot/spacemen
stiltwalkers (see photo at top) who
wandered around the arena floor during various bands’ sets were pretty damn
awesome.

 

Also, if anything, the
programming was more adventurous than last year, with everybody from prog (Tangerine Dream) and punk (Suicide) legends to established
contemporary faves (Moby, M83, Flaming
Lips
) to full-on deejay sets (Flying
Lotus, Dan Deacon, James Murphy & Pat Mahoney
) to up-and-coming indie avatars
(Neon Indian, Austra, Beak>, Antlers)
competing for the attention of attendees. There were a few no-shows, such as Little Dragon, who canceled their
Friday evening outdoor set (which would have taken place in the rain and cold)
due to a serious “illness” in the band; oddly, the bandmember recovered in time
for the following night’s gig at D.C. indoor venue the 9:30 Club. And at least
one artist suffered equipment malfunction serious enough to force an abrupt
set-ending –  Grimes (see below) quit after barely a half-hour; no word whether
or not a similar scenario forced John
Maus
to also deliver an abbreviated performance, but the electronic
composer did leave more than a few clubgoers grumbling.  On balance, though, Moogfest is relatively
glitch-free, and the fact that it is held, for the most part, in clubs and
performance spaces all within a 5-minute walking distance of one another, means
that ticketholders can move freely and speedily from one venue to the other and
generally get to see pretty much every performer, at least partially, they have
listed on their dance cards.

 

A few highlight, among the many:

 

***

 

Austra (Friday, Orange Peel): While last year the early-evening shows all tended to be
only modestly attended, tonight there was already a considerable line outside
the Orange Peel at 6pm. Once in, music fans were not disappointed, and they
showed their appreciation by dancing for Austra’s entire set. Her dramatic
Florence & The Machine/Kate Bush/Judie Tzuke stylings, all deliberately-plotted
hand, arm and mic movements set to a dance beat and layered in thick keyboard
washes, and also abetted by a pair of extroverted female singer/dancers
flanking her, bordered on occasional contrivance, but overall she delivered the
goods. (From the Blurt twitter feed: #moogfest Austra first pleasant surprise – florence meets kate bush meets judie tzuke
inna theatrical nu wave hot tub.)

 

Beak> (Friday, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium): The Portishead offshoot was totally
engaging, serving up a blend of Krautrock, minimalist techno and drone-metal.
The three musicians frequently swapped off on instruments as well, Chinese fire
drill-style. And since the venue was only about 1/10 full, I’d have to award
this set a “You Missed It, Folks” award. Catch Beak> next time they come to
the U.S., definitely. (Blurt tweet: Beak in full on krautrock motorik mode now – Neu kidding! #moogfest)

 

Holy Fuck (Friday,
Asheville Civic Center): In retrospect, one of my top three favorite shows all
weekend. Psychedelic and dubby as hell, yet steaming with energy and featuring
the band throwing themselves around the stage like they clearly meant it. Each
song got thicker and heavier until the crowd got sucked into a sonic worm hole.
(Blurt tweet: #moogfest Holy Fuck at ACC is purest dub-psych cranial uncorking all night so far… Holy
krautrock, batman.)

 

Grimes (Friday,
Asheville Music Hall): Mentioned here mainly because it was one of the sets I
most wanted to catch; the Canadian musician has an amazing voice and a very
eclectic approach to her electronica-lathered pop. Unfortunately, while things
started out on a promising note they rapidly deteriorated as her gear lapsed
into “uncooperative mode” and after about 25 minutes a visibly frustrated (and
nearly in tears) Grimes bolted from the stage and didn’t return.

 

Lunzproject (Friday,
Diana Wortham Theatre): The DWT is a formal recital hall with near-perfect
acoustics, which meant that Lunzproject – Krautrock and minimalist-music legend
Hans-Joachim Roedelius on grand
piano plus synth, accompanied with great empathy by Tim Story on synth), could perform in the perfect setting. Both men
were solemn to the point of impassive, although a few times you could see them
sneak smiles of pleasure at one another following a particularly nice flourish.
Adept at creating and maintaining a mood, they served up deep, rich, calming
melodies awash in ambient/aquatic textures.

 

Anika (Friday,
Orange Peel): I’ll second what Steven Rosen said, above, and add that this was
one of the weekend’s nicest surprises. With the members of Beak> plus a female keyboard player backing her up, Anika
delivered a kind of “Portishead goes pop” set, additionally courting a heavy
Velvet Underground vibe (her vocal resemblance to Nico is hard to ignore,
particularly in the way she sing-recites a lot of her songs). The club crowd
seemed entranced, too, and demanded an encore. Walking back out onstage
clutching a small journal-type lyrics book, she flipped through the pages,
checked to make sure the other musicians were ready, and proceeded slither into
a cover of “Life During Wartime” that brought the house down as grins of
recognition slowly creased the faces of the punters. Per Rosen’s Eno notes
above, it wouldn’t be the only time we’d get a small but telling dose of Talking Heads during the weekend. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest Anika at o peel is radically reworked varshons of dylan, skeeter davis,
crystals… Some krazy kraut-disco too.)

 

***

 

Dan Deacon (Saturday,
Animoog Playground): Noted primarily because the contrast between Deacon’s set
this year and last year couldn’t be greater. Deacon is a genius, but having him
play outdoors in a flat parking lot before the sun went down wasn’t the most
genius move. He is always entertaining and people were entertained, but the
sound was badly distorted, and when he did his patented dance battle – having
the crowd to move back to form a big circle in the middle then selecting two
folks to have a dance-off – it was considerably less effective than in 2010
when he performed indoors at the arena where you could watch the whole
crowd/circle/dance thing unfold from the balcony in true spectator sport
fashion. You could sure smell the weed, however.

 

Terry Riley (Saturday,
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium): See above for Rosen’s comments. I suspect a lot of
people, expecting a set of traditional Riley-esque minimalism were caught
off-guard when he launched into almost Mose Allison-styled jazz, or when his
son picked up a nylon stringed guitar to lend flamenco flavors to a Latin
number. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest Anyone who says they expected to hear Terry Riley sing avant blooze tonight is
lyin’…)

 

Adrian Belew Power Trio (Saturday, Diana Wortham Theatre): An absolutely
packed house was wowed by the Belew crew – which was far more than just a
“trio.” Initially Belew played with a drummer and female bassist, then midway
through they were replaced by a different drummer plus Belew’s old King Crimson cohort Tony Levin (whose group the Stickmen
performed earlier in the evening), which meant it was time for, you guessed it,
some serious Crimsonage, “Elephant Talk” being one key fave they pulled out.
But the musical chairs didn’t end there – soon a second guitarist came out (he
also triggered samples on a laptop) to make the music even louder and more
brutal; not long after that the original drummer and bassist also rejoined the
lineup… and then they were six. yeah, it got loud. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest Adrian Belew now a 6 piece and
sounding like monstrous sea vessel breaking apart in a storm…)

 

Amon Tobin (Saturday, Asheville Civic Center): Finally the arena filled nearly to
capacity, and the costume-watching factor was high. Kids leaning over the
balconies and crowding the walkways were driving the security crazy as Tobin
delivered a pounding set of hard techno, abetted by a dizzying light show.

 

St. Vincent (Saturday,
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium): Yes, Annie came, she saw, she shredded, she
conquered. Parts of her show seemed over-rehearsed and failed to engage at
times – when you watch a performer and wonder how long it took her/him to come
up with a particular move or flourish, that’s distracting – but it mostly
rocked. Also, her light show bordered on brilliance. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest St. Vincent at TWA was one of most
effective light shows in terms of accenting the songs so far at mf.)

 

Suicide (Saturday,
Orange Peel): Ditto Rosen’s observations. Between the thuggish-demeanor’d
Martin Rev stalking and stabbing his keys, and Alan Vega’s almost street-person
schtick, the visual entertainment factor was high, and the music crushed. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest Now Suicide at Peel is perplexing a crowd who “heard” it is a
godfather of techno… not techno godfather, silly. Punk.)

 

***

 

Oneohtrix Point Never (Sunday, Orange Peel): While the crowd mostly stood
for this heavy-ambient set when they probably could have appreciated it more
sitting down, there’s no question that Daniel Lopatin knows how to entrance.
With some eye-popping visuals – fractals, pop art and more – the sounds were
absolutely hypnotic, at times aquatic and immersive, other times uplifting like
21st century gospel/choral music. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest Oneohtrix making me feel like
time I was in diving bell w/J Cousteau and he whipped out his Aphex Twin
bootlegs.)

 

Beats Antique (Sunday,
Animoog Playground): Given the cold weather, the group’s belly dancer didn’t
exactly have the best job in the world. No matter, though – as the sun was
starting to set, the band stirred up a riotous blend of Middle Eastern,
Afrobeat, hip-hop and rock ‘n’ roll. They made me think of a younger, more
broad-based take on what Transglobal Underground was doing a number of years
back.

 

M83 (Sunday,
Asheville Civic Center): Serious spectacle time. Nothing about M83 is writ
small or subtle, from the in-your-face light show to the
all-anthems/all-the-time setlist. He’s moved well past his early Yes fixation
and is now in his, dare I say it, U2 phase, all rhythmically pulsing plus
soaring melodies. And it’s total crowd-pleasing stuff. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest M83playing genuinely beautiful
music.. heating up in Prog-throb vein. Fans sparking up en masse.)

 

Neon Indian (Sunday,
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium): This guy clearly loves the idea of being a rock star
– the moves! the gestures! the Jesus Christ poses! But to his credit, he
performs so naturally that it’s fun to chart his trajectory without any
snarkiness. Very ‘80s-ish (Depeche Mode can’t help but come to mind when
watching the band) but with an indie-rock contemporary flair, Neon Indian’s
music is big enough to fill whatever sized room he happens to find himself in.

 

Special Disco Version feat. James Murphy & Pat
Mahoney
(Sunday, Asheville Civic
Center). Another one of those “You Missed It, Folks” sets, as the arena emptied
out to a considerable degree after M83. But the duo, which includes a certain
LCD Soundsystem dude, still commanded a small sea of asses into full “shake”
mode as they spun rarer-than-rare dance, funk and soul wax. (Blurt tweet: #moogfest James Murphy et al at ACC pulling amazing deep cutz – funk n disco n headz –
plus skillful light show, small crowd ecstatic.)

 

Ford & Lopatin (Sunday, Asheville Music Hall): My second dose of Daniel Lopatin this
evening, and joined by his cohort Joel Ford, he did not disappoint. Poppier and
less abstract than Oneohtrix Point Never, the F&L set had an ‘80s flavor
but earthier and funkier. Call it IDM for people who still remember what it was
like to dance to pop and soul hits on the radio.

 

***

 

By way of underscoring Mr.
Rosen’s comments at the top, many of the most rewarding moments at Moogfest
2011 weren’t performed, but uttered. As with last year’s gathering, the panels
and workshop held during the day at the aptly-named
Moogaplex
were instructive and informative, in particular the ones about Sun Ra (“Sun Ra and Beyond: Exploring
Rae Recordings from Bob’s Archives”), the deep history of Dr. Moog and his
collaborators (“Remember Walter Sear’s Pivotal Role in Moog Legacy”), and of
course the Theremin (“Journey to the
Center of the Theremin”). Then there was the aforementioned Brian Eno lecture on Saturday
afternoon, which was at points intellectually provocative and downright
hilarious, as the British raconteur and musical legend held forth on everything
from Terry Riley, Steve Reich and the nature of composition; to how he came to
record his classic Music For Airports album
(hint: it involved finding himself in a Cologne airport in 1977); to
cybernetics, Copernicus, evolution and Darwin; and how we, as humans, should
always seek to find a balance between using our intellect and surrendering to
our emotions.

 

It’s the latter notion, in
fact, might best be said to sum up the spirit of the late Dr. Moog. Thursday
afternoon, before Moogfest officially started, I attended a press conference
with Eno at the YMI Cultural Center, the location of a month-long Eno art
installation, 77 Million Paintings.
He touched upon some of same things he would dip into a couple of days later at
the lecture – for example, the concepts of control and surrender – along with a
detailed discussion of the installation, which is an intricate marriage between
an array of video screens and a surround sound-type audio system. The visual
display involves 4 screens and 3 computers choosing randomly from banks of
images he’d previously created to yield combinations that, Eno assures, will
never be seen twice, while the music is culled from ambient compositions mixed
but not synchronized so that they, too, appear randomly.

 

The idea for him as an artist,
he said, was to also surrender and allow his visuals and sonics to take
whatever trajectory they “chose” to take; that is, once the installation is
running,  he relinquishes any control he
may have had during the actual composition stages. Sitting in the darkened
installation room at the YMI an hour or so prior to the press conference, I was
subjected to that same control/surrender element: initially I wanted to track
the visuals, watching each image bleed into the subsequent one while also
taking note of what was going on with the audio track (for example, a Danny
Thompson-styled bassline, or a helicopter-like phased whirring effect).
Gradually, though, I allowed my mind to switch off in order that I could shift
into pure emotion mode, and I not only lost track of time, I nearly forgot that
I was sitting in a room with several other people, so immersive and joyous was
the experience. When I eventually got up to head over to the press conference,
I felt like I was walking on foam rubber.

 

I reckon that’s all one
should ask from art – to be changed, have one’s consciousness shifted, even if
just for a little while. Which perhaps made 77
Million Paintings
the most emblematic aspect of the entire Moogfest
weekend. How did I get here, indeed.

 

 

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